The Incomplete Guide to D-Pads


Continuing my series of posts about the different mobile forms factors, I've submitted another post in the MobilitySite, and this time it's all about the D-PAD!



The latest handsets by ASUS and VelocityMobile may indicate a new trend in Windows Mobile devices: So long old D-PAD, here comes the trackball!


Trackball? With Windows Mobile? You must be kidding me…

I decided to take action and review some of the D-PAD types that I’ve encountered during the years. As I did in my blog, with the Incomplete Guide to Mobile Forms Factors – this is obviously a non-official review but only my personal point of view. So, I give you now - the Incomplete Guide to Directional Pads!


Let's get wiki'ed with it:

D-Pad: (from Wikipedia) a flat, usually thumb-operated directional control found on nearly all modern video game console gamepads, with one button on each point.

Amazing stuff isn't it...

Video games?

Reminds me...

When I was a kid, I used to play with 2 things: Transformers figures (that's dolls for men) and Atari games.



The Atari people were probably the first ones to realize that each game requires a slightly different directional pad. Their games console actually came with 2 different joysticks! How genius is that?!


(I used to prefer the one with the stick, hated the one with the wheel...)


Years later, kids who played video and PC games could select from a large variety of joysticks and game pads.



OK, so much for the basics, let's get back to our wonderful world of mobility.

I loved my first Sony Ericsson phone so much that I decided to stuff it and create a chain out of its' D-PAD (take a look! 4 buttons, such a powerful way to navigate through items, text, menus etc.)




The mobile world is raging with new devices, software, manufacturers and concepts, but the D-PAD is still here. A bit different than 20 years ago, but still here. Today we so many different phones and each one has a different D-PAD. Few examples:


Traditional D-PAD:


The "traditional" D-PAD (if we can call it like that...) can be found in all of the Palm Treo devices (which I like so much) but also in many other handsets out there. A simple D-PAD consists out of 2 hardware buttons: the middle one (the 'Enter') and the 4 directional button(s) surrounding the middle one. sometimes it's 4 buttons, but usually it's one big frame which has 4 hot spots for each direction. Why do I love it? because it's simple, accurate (you can get used to the number of clicks it takes to perform a common activity) and never lets me down!

The HP traveler, as a different example, includes a D-PAD built out of only 1 physical button (where the enter and the 4 arrows are all in the same physical button). Which is BAD.


It's bad because too many times you want to click 'Enter', but instead, you accidentally click on one of the direction buttons (since it's all one piece) - I have this device (don't ask me why...) and believe me - it's one of the worst D-PAD I've ever seen.


5D Joystick:


Another HP device I don't particularly like is the communicator. Like many Sony Ericsson phones, it comes with a 5D Joystick. I know many people who like this mechanism and find it comfortable, but I personally find it hard to change the directions quickly, because you need to move the position of your thumb from being below the joystick to a position above the joystick, in my eyes, it's not a great way to navigate.

Sony Ericsson engineers obviously think otherwise as they invented a joystick which pops up a bit for better games experience...



iPod's Click Wheel:


Well, here's a fun way to navigate through songs... Apple, as usual, invented their own way to move the selection mark - I think it's a great replacement for the traditional D-PAD but obviously it may not be enough for complex applications, for instance: Pocket Excel.


TrackBall - the ultimate replacement of the D-PAD?


Blackberry's trackball is probably the best replacement for a mouse. when I use OperaMini with it - it give a great user experience!

But as good as it is, it's not perfect; when scrolling through some mails or menu options, I often find myself missing the item I wanted to select and going back the opposite direction. Of course it's not such as big issue, but sometimes I find it annoying. For me - the only weakness of the trackball is around accuracy.



iphone htchd

Apple's iPhone was the first touch screen device with no directional pad whatsoever. This clean design requires a software support, which obviously works perfectly for the iPhone applications, which were built into this platform.

HTC just released their Touch HD and it looks as if it does not have a D-PAD as well. This makes me wonder - how easy it would be to operate inside the standard windows mobile stuff which is not always so 'finger friendly' (just think of scrolling down a long inbox list without a D-PAD).


And here's a question for you all:

If you could built your perfect mobile phone - which one of the above options would you choose?


amit said…
Err dude, isn't trackball have been around for quite sometime now? I've HTC P3300 (Artemis) which was came out in market last year & it has a trackball. :) HTC P3350 also has it. They call it RollR which is trackball + trackwheel. They haven't brought out a phone yet which has just trackball & not the wheel.
Patrick Hermawan said…
Why not combine the D-Pad and trackball?
4 keys around the trackball!

If it's available on the market, please tell me!